Cash, credit or debit for holiday shopping?

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Data pix.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Paper or plastic?  Nope, we're not talking about your grocery bags, but rather if you should use cash or a card for holiday shopping!

If you think it's a bit too early for the discussion, think again.

We're not even past Halloween, but WREG found shoppers already hitting the stores for the holidays.

"It's so hard to find stuff when it's Christmas time, everybody's wanting everything. You have to plan that stuff months in advance," shopper Baylie Shepard said.

Now, many folks are literally planning how to pay.

New research shows all of those data breaches have consumers scared to swipe, and maybe they should be.

Another report reveals more than 13 million consumers suffered identity fraud last year, the second highest level on record.

WREG asked Shepard if she'd considered the risks.

She replied,  "I'm a waitress, so I use a lot of cash most of the time."

Cash is convenient, and it helps consumers stay on budget.

However, Nancy Crawford of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South said you can't use cash online or you could lose it; plus, carrying a lot of cash leads to safety concerns.

Overall, she said cash isn't the best or safest payment option.

"The safest method of payment is always going to be a credit card because you have protections under federal law. If the product doesn't arrive, if it's an unauthorized charge, you have ways of disputing that," Crawford said.

Debit cards don't offer the same protections, and if someone accesses your account, they could drain it immediately. Plus, it can take banks days to resolve those problems.

However, plenty of folks in the Mid-South don't have bank accounts, let alone credit cards. So what about prepaid cards?

Crawford said, "It's a good option against carrying a lot of cash, but you don't have the same protections."

More importantly, prepaid cards are a major target for thieves.

Again, Crawford said use credit before cash or debit, but no matter what you use, watch your money over the holidays.

"Pay attention to your bank accounts and your credit card statements, if you have online access, check those on a regular ongoing basis," she said.

Another idea is to have a separate account for all of your shopping and online purchases. That way, if crooks somehow hack in, your main account isn't affected.

You could also use cash to buy gift cards and shop with those.

If you do get one of those letters saying your account may have been compromised due to a data breach, don't ignore it,  because that could be costly.

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